Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Career Conversations – What I learned when my teens wanted to host a program series on careers

Career Conversations posterThis year I undertook a challenge: an ongoing program series designed by my teen board, reliant on the generosity of adults in the surrounding community, not especially fun, on my night off. This became Career Conversations, and we had our fourth and final program last night. Overall, it was a smashing success. Here’s what I’ve learned this year in taking this leap.

High school students just won’t register ahead of time.

Wouldn’t it be great if they did? Wouldn’t it make our lives so much less anxiety ridden? Yeah. It would be so nice. But they just don’t. I think it’s partly because they are so bleeping busy that they genuinely do not know that they’ll have time to attend a non-essential event, and partly because they just don’t think about it the way the parent who registers younger kids and tweens for programs does. They assume that the program will happen with or without them, and that’s the kicker. Last night’s program would have been the fifth of its type, but I panicked and pulled the plug at the last minute when no one had registered. When I told my teen board that it was cancelled, several teens said that they had been planning to come…. but just didn’t register. Every night as my panelists arrived, I had a sinking fear in the pit of my stomach, waiting for teens to trickle in. And they did. Every time. Phew.

Learning about other people’s jobs is so interesting!

I would run this program every week, just to sit and hear people talk about what they do. This year, we heard from an engineer who worked in health care, a doctor who followed his wife into his career path, someone who worked for a political campaign that changed her life, a stay at home dad who started his own business so he could be his own boss, an author whose passion is helping victims of sexual violence, and an art historian who has unwittingly become an expert in the best – and worst – truck stops in the midwest. “What kind of work do you do?” is a cocktail party question, but beyond hearing “I’m an engineer, a librarian, a stay at home mom, a volunteer…” what do we really learn about people? This panel conversation setup allowed people to really get to the heart of why they love what they do, what brings them satisfaction, and what challenges they face.

Each profession definitely has a different tone

The engineers were surprisingly funny, and engaged in a fair amount of competitive, good natured ribbing between themselves. The health professionals left no doubt about the weight they bear in being responsible for people’s lives. The politically connected folks had long answers and carefully measured every word that they spoke. The creatives talked to each other a lot, and focused the most on finding fulfillment and personal satisfaction in their work. A number of teens attended all four panels, and I’m so glad that they were able to see this diversity. After last night’s panel on arts & entertainment careers, a teen thanked the panel at the end by saying, “I don’t plan to go into your field at all, but this was definitely the most interesting conversation and I learned so much from it!”

Life is long and the path isn’t always straight

This is something that I think teens don’t hear so often, and I wish they did. Sure, some people knew from a young age that they were going to be doctors and then became doctors, and I can certainly admire their dedication and focus. But I definitely appreciated the panelists who talked about trying things and finding out that they hated them and changed direction, those who worked two jobs to do what they really had a passion for, and even last night’s graphic designer and screenprinter who talked about getting kicked out of high school at 15 then moving to the US with a backpack, $100, and one friend on this continent. There are as many ways to make a life as there are people on earth, and teens need to understand that they are the ones ultimately in control of the path they follow.

Following the teens’ lead was so worth it, but I needed their support to do it.

Several years ago, I stopped trying to program “just for fun” types of events for high schoolers and shifted to things that were more useful: learn to caddy, summer volunteering, getting a teen liaison on the Board. I’ve tried to do some jobs workshops or resume review events before, but with a huge and well funded high school in our community with a counseling department that can far outpace me, they never flew. But partly they didn’t fly because I clipped their wings. Fearing failure, I would cancel the programs if I didn’t get a response. Career Conversations worked in part because I pushed on despite the fear. But it would not have worked it all without the buy in and support of my teen board. They promoted it to their friends, they showed up even when the topic wasn’t in line with their interests, and they gave suggestions for future panel topics. And this worked, I got their buy in and support, not because of something I did, but because of something I didn’t do. I didn’t butt in. I didn’t tell them it wouldn’t work. I didn’t redirect them when I thought “been there, done that, didn’t work.” I let them lead, and it made for one of the most terrifying and most successful things I did this year.

#SVYALit: Author Christa Desir discusses the Voices and Faces Project

Four years ago, I participated in the first Voices and Faces Project survival testimonial writing workshop. Entitled “The Stories We Tell”, this is a two-day writing workshop geared toward survivors of rape, domestic violence, and sexual trafficking.

I have long been affiliated with the Voices and Faces Project. I am one of the founding members and remain president of the board. The mission of the project is to give a voice and a face to survivors of sexual violence so that myths about rape can be dispelled in media, in culture, and more importantly in people’s minds.

The writing workshop is a natural offshoot of this mission. It’s not a “healing” workshop so much as a workshop to teach survivors about the power of testimony in changing culture. The workshop itself is full of important readings: from Martin Luther King to Sandra Cisneros to Primo Levi. And the writing exercises are what ultimately led me to a first draft of FAULT LINE.

The two days in that workshop changed my life. Not just because for the first time I was able to find a voice in my writing, but more because of the stories other people told in that room. Over and over again I heard horrifying stories of unimaginable violence followed by absolutely amazing tales of resilience and survival.

In that room I met a beautiful woman named Sarah who was gang raped with three friends on the Appalachian Trail. This went on all night until she and her friends finally hid in the trees and the perpetrators were too drunk to track them. When she got home and went through the trial, things were equally as bad for her because there were no rape shield laws at that time to protect her from the defense attorney’s horrifying scrutiny of the girls’ sexual past or the media’s printing all their names, ages, and schools in the paper. Her story cut me to the bone and yet her survival has been the thing I keep going back to when I’ve felt that there was little hope for anything ever changing. Sarah changed my life. In the same way that every survivor I’ve ever spoken to or advocated for in hospital ERs has changed my life. They have all become my sisters and brothers. My family in sorrow and survival.

When I sold FAULT LINE, I always knew that half of whatever I earned from that book would go back to the survivor testimonial writing workshop. Because I want other survivors to have access to something like this. I want them to be able to find their own voices and write their own stories. I want them to be in a room with other survivors and know that there is hope, there is a way to make it through, and that they have people who want to listen.

Because of FAULT LINE and my readers and the writing community, I have now been able to fund two additional writing workshops. And “The Stories We Tell” has grown. Other people have participated in it and helped to get more funding. Last year we did five workshops. This year, we have plans for more. I am so proud of the work that we’re doing with survivors and so incredibly grateful for all the people who have come forth to donate, offer assistance, spread the word, help in whatever way they can. You have all helped me and other survivors more than you can ever know.

About Christa Desir: I live outside of Chicago with my awesome husband, Julio, and our three children. When I’m not writing, I am an editor of romance novels. I am also a feminist, former rape victim advocate, lover of coffee and chocolate, and head of the PTA.

Christa Desir is the author of Fault Line and Bleed Like Me

About Lived Through This:

In these pages you’ll meet a community of rape and sexual violence survivors who have been shaped, but refuse to be defined, by their histories of violence. They are brave, and they are outspoken—but, mostly, they are hopeful.
From its insistently resolute opening essay to its final, deeply moving story, Lived Through This is a book that defies conventional wisdom about life in the wake of sexual violence, while putting names and faces on an issue that too often leaves its victims silent and invisible.

Part personal history of Anne Ream’s own experience rebuilding her life after violence, part memoir of a multi-country, multi-year journey spent listening to survivors, Lived Through This is at once deeply personal and resolutely political. In these pages we are introduced to, among others, the women of Atenco, Mexico, victims of rape and political torture who are speaking out about gender-based violence in Latin America; Beth Adubato, a woman who was raped by a popular athlete and then denied justice when her college failed to fully investigate the attack; and Jenny and Steve Bush, a rape survivor and her father who are working together to share Jenny’s testimony of surviving rape at the hands of a veteran in order to alter the US military’s response to sexual violence committed by those in its ranks.

Writing with compassion, candor, and, at times, even much-needed humor, Ream brings us a series of stories and essays that are as insistent as they are incisive. Considered individually, her profiles are profoundly moving, and even inspiring. Considered collectively, they are a window into a world where sexual violence is more commonplace than most of us imagine.

The accomplished and courageous women and men profiled in Lived Through This are, in the words of the author, “living reminders of all that remains possible in the wake of the terrible.” (Published April 2014 by Beacon Press)

About Fault Line:

Ben could date anyone he wants, but he only has eyes for the new girl — sarcastic free-spirit, Ani. Luckily for Ben, Ani wants him too. She’s everything Ben could ever imagine. Everything he could ever want.

But that all changes after the party. The one Ben misses. The one Ani goes to alone.

Now Ani isn’t the girl she used to be, and Ben can’t sort out the truth from the lies. What really happened, and who is to blame?

Ben wants to help her, but she refuses to be helped. The more she pushes Ben away, the more he wonders if there’s anything he can do to save the girl he loves. (Published October 2013 by SimonPulse)

The Next #SVYALit Project Hangout: Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A. S. King

Special Guest A. S. King: Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, plus Bleed Like Me by Christa Desir and Perfectly Good White Boy by Carrie Mesrobian
Date: November 19th (Noon Eastern, 11 A.M. Central)

Confirmed Guests: A. S. King (forthcoming 2014 and 2015 title), Christa Desir, Carrie Mesrobian

Publisher’s Description:  


Graduating from high school is a time of limitless possibilities—but not for Glory, who has no plan for what’s next. Her mother committed suicide when Glory was only four years old, and she’s never stopped wondering if she will eventually go the same way…until a transformative night when she begins to experience an astonishing new power to see a person’s infinite past and future. From ancient ancestors to many generations forward, Glory is bombarded with visions—and what she sees ahead of her is terrifying.

A tyrannical new leader raises an army. Women’s rights disappear. A violent second civil war breaks out. And young girls vanish daily, sold off or interned in camps. Glory makes it her mission to record everything she sees, hoping her notes will somehow make a difference. She may not see a future for herself, but she’ll do everything in her power to make sure this one doesn’t come to pass.

In this masterpiece about freedom, feminism, and destiny, Printz Honor author A.S. King tells the epic story of a girl coping with devastating loss at long last—a girl who has no idea that the future needs her, and that the present needs her even more.

Karen’s Thoughts:

Well, I loved this book. It comes out on October 14th so please get a copy and read it. We’ll be talking with A. S. King – I promise I will try not to cry, I have cried every time I meet her because her writing speaks to my soul.

Also, we’ll be talking about Bleed Like Me (out 10/7) and Perfectly Good White Boy (out 10/1) as well. So read those! 

The #SVYALit Project: When Yes is Not Really Yes, Coercion is Not Consent (part 2)

The #SVYALit Project Index

The other night at karate, the sensei was passing out lanyards and the 5-year-old wanted one even though she wasn’t a student there. So she went and asked if she could please have one. His reply was this, “if you give me a hug, I will give you one.” I suddenly appeared from across the room, panicky. I realize he thought nothing of this simple statement, but it sets such a dangerous precedent. You see, he was withholding something she wanted and suggesting that the only way she could get it was to do something to him physically. He was, in fact, coercing a hug out of her. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with a hug – when it’s freely given. But coercion is not consent. In order for true consent to happen, it means both people have to have a choice in saying no and that they instead choose to say yes.

Coercion is defined as “the practice of persuading someone to do something by using force or threats” (Dictionary.com) Sexual coercion is “the act of being persuaded to have sex (or some other sexual activity) when you don’t want to.” (Sexual Coercion Resources, this is a really good resource that outlines sexual coercion) “Coercion is a tactic used by perpetrators to intimidate, trick, or force someone to have sex with them without physical force.” (from the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center discussion Coercion and Consent)

is the act of being persuaded to have sex (or engage in other sexual activities) when you don’t want to. – See more at: http://bandbacktogether.com/sexual-coercion-resources/#sthash.7IVMb3HE.dpuf
Sexual coercion is the act of being persuaded to have sex (or engage in other sexual activities) when you don’t want to. – See more at: http://bandbacktogether.com/sexual-coercion-resources/#sthash.7IVMb3HE.dpuf

When we talk about sexual violence, the current cultural discussion suggests moving away from the idea that no means no to that of enthusiast consent, the idea that yes means yes. But the truth is, sometimes yes isn’t always yes. Sometimes, that yes is born out of coercion and manipulation, sometimes it is born out of a threat. It may look like a yes to an outside observer, legally it may even hold up as a yes, but ethically it is not truly a yes. That’s why when we talk about consent, it is defined as someone who is willing and able saying yes out of their own free will. Free will, self-sovereignty, is an important component of true consent.

Which brings us to Bleed Like Me by Christa Desir

I read Bleed Like Me some time ago and have been waiting for months to talk about it. And that time is finally now. Bleed Like Me is a strong and powerful book because it plops us into the midst of one of the unhealthiest relationships ever and asks us to consider what that would look like and what it means – for both parties. And tucked inside there is a little nugget of truth about what many would consider the “gray areas” of consent.

Amelia Gannon, “Gannon”, is somewhat lost. Her parents adopted three younger boys from Guatamela and ever since then her life has not been the same. She’s been pushed to the outside as her parents deal with the myriad of issues that her brothers come with. She is lonely, her family is broken, and she seeks solace and comfort in the edge of a razor blade. Gannon is a cutter, she cuts to help deal with her emotions.

Michael Brooks seems to really see into the soul of Gannon. At first he seems to love her, but as the relationship develops he seems to have an almost obsessive need for her. It’s not so much love as it is a need to try and take Gannon and use her to fill up the broken places inside himself.

Neither one of these two teens should be in a relationship, and yet that is exactly where they find themselves. And there are moments where Michael manipulates Gannon into having sex with him. He doesn’t assault her, she is in fact saying yes – but she is not saying yes out of her own free will, she is saying yes because Michael insists that her saying no will somehow damage him further. He puts the burden of his emotional health and well being on her, and since she is so broken in her own ways it is so easy for him to do.

That sex that happens between Michael and Gannon is not, in any legal sense of the word, rape. She has in fact said yes. But as we see the process play out and see into Gannon’s point of view, it is also clear that this is not, in fact, what she really wants. She is not saying yes out of her own free will, but as an end result to the extremely destructive emotional coercion that Michael uses against her.

Emotional coercion occurs when one party tries to use guilt or other forms of manipulation to force the other party to consent to sex when they really don’t want to. Emotional coercion is a type of power play; it is not born out of both parties free will and it is therefore not true consent.

There are more extreme examples of coercion in both Plus One by Elizabeth Fama and The Program by Suzanne Young. In Plus One, a male police officer threatens to jail a female unless she does a sexual favor for him. In The Program the main character, Sloane, is in a treatment center for “therapy” that will remove her memories; a male attendant promises to give her pills to help her keep her memories if she will kiss him, promising that the next time it will cost her more than just a kiss. On the outside, these scenes looks like consent, but they are not true consent because the party saying “yes” is only doing so because the other party is holding something over them – whether it be emotional coercion (if you don’t have sex with me you will lose me or if you don’t have sex with me I will somehow be hurt) or some other threat (I will make sure bad things happen to you or I will permit this bad thing to happen to you).

It’s interesting to note that earlier this year I stumbled across a review of Plus One by Elizabeth Fama where the reviewer began slut shaming the young lady who was being coerced by the police officer, calling her a slut and a prostitute. The reviewer didn’t recognize that this was not truly consent but a form of sexual violence. After some discussion, she amended the review to reflect that it was not consensual and it changed her opinion of this character. But this moment demonstrated to me how deceptive sexual coercion can be, even when clearly outlined in the pages of a book many readers will still not recognize that sexual coercion is taking place and they will blame and judge the victim as opposed to the perpetrator.

Sometimes, it’s really hard to identify if you’ve been, or are being, sexually coerced. You ARE being sexually coerced if the following behaviors are noted:

  • You don’t feel you have a choice 
  • You’re being pressured constantly
  • You’re being pressured even after you’ve said “no.”
  • You face possible social consequences if you don’t engage in a certain type of sexual behavior.
  • Someone uses their authority or power to get you to engage in sexual behaviors.

– See more at: http://bandbacktogether.com/sexual-coercion-resources/#sthash.7IVMb3HE.dpuf

In contrast, there was some very interesting dialogue that happened on an episode of Glee involving the characters of Sam and Mercedes. Sam wanted to have sex, Mercedes was unsure. They have several conversations throughout the show about the topic, both of them having competing interests. Sam is experienced and he is ready for more. Mercedes is a virgin with a strong religious background and she is not sure that she is ready for sex. Although you can clearly see Sam’s frustrations at times, he does a pretty good job of respecting her and her right to wait until she is ready.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcH8cwxS4C0]

Or, to use YA literature in our comparison, we can look at the scenes in This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready. Here, it is the girl that is experienced and the boy who wants to wait. And wait they do, until the boy finally states that he is ready and both teens have a healthy, satisfying sexual encounter that harms neither of them physically or emotionally. We see a similar scene play out in the one healthy relationship that Anna has in Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt. There is healthy conversation, there is respect, there is true consent. The relationship in Uses for Boys is particularly interesting because there are so many other clearly unhealthy relationships in Anna’s life that have preceded this one for readers to contrast it with.

Think of how beautiful it is in If I Stay when Mia asks Adam to play her like a musical instrument, both of them at a place in their relationships where they feel safe and valued and choose to share their bodies with one another. Or in The Fault in Our Stars when Hazel Grace and Augusts decide that they are ready to have sex with one another.

It is the subtleties of consent that often get lost in our conversations about sexual violence because it requires that we talk about the dynamics of a healthy relationship, which many sexual education courses fail to do. But YA literature can help us do this. As we read, we can ask ourselves if this is a healthy relationship. And when sex occurs, we can ask ourselves if it was truly consensual sex. And yes, we can use these titles to discuss the issue with teens. We can ask our boys, “do you want to be the guy that has sex because you manipulated a girl into it?” And we can ask our girls, “do you want to be the girl who has sex just to get it over with or because you finally decided to give in?”

Sexual coercion is part of the reason why the culture is asking that we shift from “No Means No” to the ideas that “Yes Means Yes”. And then we have to have discussions about what a true yes means. It has to come from a place of free will, without guilt, manipulation, or any type of threat. Only then is a yes truly yes. Only then is it real consent. If you’re not willing to accept their no, then it isn’t really a yes.

Talking with Teens About Consent
Sexual Assault Awareness Month, talking to teens about consent and rape part 1 and part 2
This is What Consent Looks Like
The Curios Case of the Kissing Doctor and Consent 

Sex/Romance in Fiction (including a Ted talk on Making Sexing Normal) by Carrie Mesrobian
The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21 (the Good Men Project)
Why Talking with Teens About the Age of Consent Matters
On Teachable Moments and Consent 
Sexual Violence, Drinking and Date Rape Drugs  
Voice Against Violence has a good list of some resources that discuss consent

The #SVYALit Project: Bleed Like Me and Emotional Coercion, a guest post by Christa Desir (part 1)

The other day a blogger asked me what I wanted people to walk away from BLEED LIKE ME thinking about. This is always a tricky question because it implies that authors have this big agenda when it comes to their fictional stories. We do not. We’re telling stories. And yet, at the same time, it is hard to interact with me in any way (personally or through my books) without knowing I have pretty strong opinions about feminism and being a girl/woman. The reality of BLM is that at its core, it asks the question of what we’re willing to suck up to be loved.

And I think this question is an important one, particularly for girls. Because from the very moment we start being able to interact with other humans, we learn that much of our value is determined by who we are to men. It’s tiny messages, things like “Now you put your finger through Mommy’s ring” in Pat the Bunny. Mommy is a wife, don’t you know? And it’s also big messages, the abundance of weddings at the end of Disney princess movies. The princesses being saved over and over again by dudes. Yes, there are outliers (Thank you, Paper Bag Princess), but these are written more as a point of contrast, an intentional paradigm shift, than as an example of diversity in the genre. And think about how prominent this message is in everything we see. Where are the guy cheerleaders on the sidelines for women’s basketball games? Where are the reality TV shows about househusbands? There is a reason the Bechdel test came about in the first place. We are a gender-biased culture.

So after being spoon-fed this diet of bias as a child, it is certainly no wonder that so much of a straight teen girl’s life is spent worrying about/craving/obsessing over, etc. boyfriends. Do guys want this too? Of course. But their status, who they are as people, does not seem to hinge on their relationship (or lack of relationship) in quite the same way as girls.

When it came to creating a story for Gannon, it wasn’t that difficult to conceive of a girl who desperately wanted to be loved. She was unprotected by her parents and took it out on herself through self-injury, so when a guy came in to presumably save her from her loneliness, readers are hopeful that he can fix her. That he can love her enough.

But of course, he can’t. First, because he’s deeply broken himself. And second, because we do not get fixed by someone loving us. We get fixed by loving ourselves. And not only is Brooks not able to fix her, but he takes her vulnerability and uses it to his own advantage. He takes her need to be loved and manipulates it into a balm for himself. Because he can. Because she’s been spoon-fed the pudding of validation through men and so has he. He will feel better if he takes care of her, and she will feel better if she lets him. But they’re both missing parts and it turns into a game of emotional manipulation and co-dependency where no one can win.

And so emotional coercion becomes another issue to explore in young adult literature. Whether in obvious ways (Sarah Dessen’s Dreamland) or in more nuanced ways (Brandy Colbert’s Pointe), we need to start questioning the messages our children have absorbed about our culture and how they form their own self-worth. And more importantly, how a lack of self-worth can be manipulated by others and damage teenagers in very serious ways. 


From the author of Fault Line comes an edgy and heartbreaking novel about two self-destructive teens in a Sid and Nancy-like romance full of passion, chaos, and dyed hair.

Seventeen-year-old Amelia Gannon (just “Gannon” to her friends) is invisible to almost everyone in her life. To her parents, to her teachers-even her best friend, who is more interested in bumming cigarettes than bonding. Some days the only way Gannon knows she is real is by carving bloody lines into the flesh of her stomach.

Then she meets Michael Brooks, and for the first time, she feels like she is being seen to the core of her being. Obnoxious, controlling, damaged, and addictive, he inserts himself into her life until all her scars are exposed. Each moment together is a passionate, painful relief.

But as the relationship deepens, Gannon starts to feel as if she’s standing at the foot of a dam about to burst. She’s given up everything and everyone in her life for him, but somehow nothing is enough for Brooks-until he poses the ultimate test.

Bleed Like Me is a piercing, intimate portrayal of the danger of a love so obsessive it becomes its own biggest threat. (Goodreads description)

BLEED LIKE ME by Christa Desir will be released on October 7, 2014 by Simon Pulse. ISBN: 9781442498907  

#SVYALit Panel #3 Wrap Up: Brandy Colbert (POINTE), Courtney C. Stevens (FAKING NORMAL), Carrie Mesrobian (SEX & VIOLENCE) and Christa Desir (FAULT LINE)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=liG2yXdrZSs?rel=0]

#SVAYLit Project Google+ Hangout on Air with the author Brandy Colbert (POINTE), Courtney C. Stevens (FAKING NORMAL), Carrie Mesrobian (SEX & VIOLENCE) and moderated by Christa Desir (FAULT LINE). This is our third discussion as part of the #SVYALit Project, with an emphasis on the topic of consent, an issue that plays a very meaningful role in both POINTE and FAKING NORMAL. Below are some of the highlights that I have pulled out of the above recording of this virtual panel. I highly recommend that you watch the entire 1 hour video because it was a really powerful, thoughtful discussion that covered on topics like consent, blaming the victim and how we can reframe that, how girls are often taught by culture that they can’t say no, and the importance of having a wide variety of stories to represent the wide variety of experiences and responses out there. We also touch several times on how important it is to have positive stories/examples to help counteract the negative because in order for teens developing their sexual identities to develop healthy sexual identities, they have to know what both positive and negative experiences look like. It’s not enough to tell ourselves that no means no, we need to have examples and discussions of what yes looks like as well.


POINTE: Came out in April. 17 year old ballet dancer named Theo. Her best friend returns after having been kidnapped 4 years ago. This return creates a spiral of emotion as Theo realizes the truth of a lot of situations in her life.

FAKING NORMAL: Alexie and Bodie are both dealing with tragic circumstances. Through their relationship Alexie begins to face the truth of some sexual trauma in her past.

DISCUSSION OF CONSENT (starts at 4:03)

Christa is a Rape Victim Advocate, which frames her perspective. When she presents at schools there is always a lot of confusion about what rape is and what it is isn’t. The legal definition includes a note about “Conscious Consent”. This is the ICASA (Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault) that Christa references: http://www.icasa.org/home.aspx?PageID=500&.

Courtney C. Stevens (6:27) – It seems confusing because there seems to be a lot of gray areas. These three things are important:
1. Being of sound mind in some kind of way.
2. Mutual desire
3. Expressed mutual desire

Brandy (7:04) – Discussion in particular of the older person/teen person and the power dynamics that can come into play here. Both people need to be able to talk about it. This is a huge part of Theo’s story in POINTE.

Carrie Mesrobian: (10:00) – Discussing age of consent laws. Teens have a perception of themselves as grown up, they don’t realize they need protection. “You don’t realize the danger you could be in.” “I didn’t know what I should be afraid of.”

Theo was so concerned about being perceived as grown up and the man really grooms her very well, tapping into this need/desire. (11:25)


Things some survivors think:
“This is all I’m worth”
Every survivor has a unique experience, no one reacts the same. 

(12:30) – By not having an empowered voice you are not consenting.

The first thing women do is blame themselves. “I’m the one who didn’t say no.”

You keep working things out over a period time. You go back to the moment and think, “I could have done something.” But the truth is, you are going back to the wrong moment. But what about that moment when that guy decided he was going to do this to you.”  We must continually shift it back to the wrong choice the person made to hurt someone, and it is a conscious choice.

In domestic violence situations we tend to ask, why does she stay. What we should be asking is why does he abuse. (Or vice versa as the case may be.)


Teens don’t always know why they are doing the things they are doing.  It’s kind of baked into our culture that we don’t talk about why we do the things we do when it comes to sex. We don’t have a good cultural vocabulary or discussion to discuss the core foundation of why and how we have sex, so then when things go wrong we don’t have the core foundation to talk about that either.

So many times we don’t take the time to think about who we are and what we are okay with – and not okay with. We don’t know how to express ourselves sexually because it is such a taboo subject. Teens are asking these questions inside but no one wants to help them find healthy, realistic answers.


Brandy: “It was really important for me for Theo to have a positive sexual experience.” Brandy wanted to show the difference between the earlier abusive situation and this positive experience. 

Karen’s thoughts: One of the great things about POINTE is how Theo begins to slowly realize the truth about her previous relationship. She doesn’t initially realize how much it had tainted her self-perception and what she felt like she was worth. The positive scene is a game changing moment that helps her clarify so many things.


Teen: “How do I say No to alcohol?”
Courtney: “You’re going to need that word No for a lot of things. . . You get to say No to the things that you don’t want. People are born with a Yes in their pocket, they always say yes.”

Kissing scene in Faking Normal: A yes to this kiss was just as powerful as a yes to sex. She needed to be able to say Yes. Karen’s note: This is such am empowering scene.

But the truth is . . . Many people are taught not to say no, they are never empowered to say No. This can be more true for women. Carrie talks about this at 23:00. But girls who say no are taught they are being snotty or mean or called a “Bitch.” Being able to say No is “rinsed out of girls at an early age.”

(24:00) “Can I do this?” – asking this question instead of just assuming you can swoop in and do this.”

What part does alcohol and drugs play a part? Alcohol and drugs can impact one’s ability to make good decisions consenting to sex.

We feel like we have to add in a bunch of stuff to soften the blow when we say no, we don’t own our no. Teens needs to no that they have a right to say to all intimate encounters, even as Courtney mentions in kissing.


Courtney (29:00): Anytime there is victimology there is no such thing as canon work. Everyone’s experience is different, their reaction is different. Your story can be the story that they connect with. All books represent part of the spectrum of experience. Some people do add it as a plot device, and I’m not for that. But I think authentic experience matters to people. I want the opportunity to make a difference. “Every time a reader says this mattered to me, I’m becoming who I am supposed to be.”

Brandy (31:00): POINTE came in part because she thought about her experiences with older men when she was a teen and wondered, “what would happen if one of them pretended they were younger then they were”. You can tell the authenticity as opposed to when something is added for shock value or a plot device.

Christa (32:45): When people start talking about their history, so many people – men and women – can find situations when they were vulnerable. “Dodgy things have become normalized to us.” References Maureen Johnson blog post about the things that have happened to her (http://maureenjohnsonbooks.tumblr.com/post/79687199694/about-the-recent-events-concerning-youtube ). I also wrote a post about this (http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2012/12/what-its-like-for-girl-politics-of.html).
Every story is different in terms of what people have been exposed to and their level of vulnerability. These books speak to the shared history of a lot survivors.

Carrie (35:00): Talking to someone from Fluxx. “Do we still need coming out stories?” Yes, because that is always something that it going to be difficult for families to process and there are so many variables. People are starting to come out about their sexual abuse stories. We’ve been asked for so many years to not saying anything, to hold the shame of the culture of our shame inside of us. That does nothing good for women – women being a majority of the victims of sexual violence. We need a variety of stories because you never know what experience is going to reach out to someone. Some people will see themselves. We need more of that in YA. And we need more in general people wrestling with sex, what is good sex, because we can’t unpack what goes wrong about sex if we can’t talk about what goes right with sex.

Carrie (38:00): Tells the story of being with a boy who knew what he wanted and what an impression that made on her.

Christa (40:00): Tells a story about RT convention. There are a lot of people who will not take a book that has sex in it.

Brandy (41:00): Talking about sex in YA. As a teen, most of us read a lot of Danielle Steel, which of course has a lot of sex in them. When people are uncomfortable with the content of a book they tend to put it down. We need literature that tackles these subjects because we don’t always know what people around us are going through.

Courtney (43:00): The reality is that kids can just put down a YA book and go to the adult shelf and buy an adult book. But the other side is that parents care about their kids. We want responsible, but we also want responsible kids. 

Christa (45:00): I absolutely think parents can and should censor things for their kids, but not for my kids. I always start with, let’s have a conversation about this book.

Carrie (46:00): Everyone has sex and violence inside them. Reading helps us navigate that.

Karen (48:00): Here I discuss watching the show The Big Bang Theory with my pre-teen daughter. Whenever it became obvious that sex was going to come up, I would quickly change the channel. This made her have some confusing notion of what sex was – she thought kissing was sex – and she sensed my unease about the topic of sex and started to feel like it was a shameful topic. So I sat down and had a conversation with her where I told her that kissing is not sex, and there is nothing wrong or bad about sex, it just wasn’t something that kids really needed to be concerned with because they needed to be doing kid things. This made me realize how it important it was for kids and teens to have accurate information free of stigma and shame. We can’t ask teens to make informed choices about sex if they don’t fully understand what sex is and it isn’t. And we can’t expect them to develop into healthy sexual beings if we are constantly putting so much shame on the topic. You can talk to teens in informative ways about sex and that does not mean that they will decide to have sex. For example, most of us believe in educating our kids about drugs so they are not caught unawares, it seems like we should be doing the same about all important life issues, including sex.

Christa (49:00): When we build a culture of shame around sex we also are building a culture of shame where survivors can’t come forward. All the silence can be unhealthy. Sometimes in trying to protect our kids, we are making them easier to not be protect-able. I would rather have it in books where we can have a dialogue about it and present clear moments of consent so that they can understand what that looks like.

Courtney (53:00): The girl came to me and I just knew that girl has a story and I need to know what that story is. Teenagers need mentors and they need adults, they need people who believe in them and will genuinely listen to them.

Brandy (55:00): Discusses CRACKED UP TO BE by Courtney Summers. This is when she realized you can cover difficult subjects in YA books.


Christa: The Play Me scene in IF I STAY by Gayle Forman. Everything gorgeous, everything we would all want in our first time scene. Beautifully done. Sexy but not gross. You can also see Christa’s previous list here: http://christaramblesandwrites.blogspot.com/2014/03/consent-and-sensitivity-good-sex-in-ya.html

Carrie: Everty time you see a good sex scene with good consent, put something up on your Tumblr. If it is real and there is good consent, honor that by giving it some love online. You can also see Carrie’s previous list here: http://carriemesrobian.com/2014/03/sexconsent-positive-ya-books-the-svyalit-project/

1) FREE FALL by Mindi Scott – told from a boy’s point of view; funny and vulnerable and real and there is information there about the steps involved

2) NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL by Siobhan Vivian – demonstrates negotiation

Brandy: USES FOR BOY by Erica Lorraine Scheidt – I was completely blown away; it was so moving, what the character needed.

Courtney C. Stevens:

1) THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green – really, really sweet. Didn’t expect the book to go there.

2) FIRE by Kristen Cashore – very realistic, very beautiful

3) IF I STAY by Gayle Forman


1) INFINITY GLASS by Myra McEntire – “So do I have a green light?”

2) PLUS ONE by Elizabeth Fama – he checks in half way through like

3) THIS SIDE OF SALVATION by Jeri Smith-Ready

You can also see Karen’s previous list here: http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2014/03/take-5-sexconsent-positive-books.html

Karen’s Final Note About the Power Dynamics of the Age of Consent:
Several times the discussion of power dynamics in a relationship came up, which are important parts of both POINTE and FAKING NORMAL. And these get into the idea of the age of consent. This topic actually came up recently in a conversation I had with my Tween daughter. I was talking to her about power issues in relationships. I don’t know how it came up, but she asks a lot of questions lately, which is obviously age appropriate and not surprising. But I started to tell her this story about how when I was a Sophomore in high school I started dating a young man in College. He was definitely breaking age of consent laws. One night we had plans to go play miniature golf. I got in his car and he drove right past the golf place to his apartment. Wanting to think the best, I went to his apartment with him. Luckily, as things started to progress he stopped when I told him to. But the truth is, in the moment I was incredibly vulnerable. No one knew where I was. He had all the power; he was physically stronger, older and more experienced, and if he had really wanted to he could have already had a weapon or drugs or some such ready. Thankfully, he was not that guy. But he could have been. I thought not just about power, but about situational differences between teens and adults. It’s one thing when you are a 15 year old dating a 15 year old and you are both trying to find some place to make out and there just really aren’t any and your both fumbling around trying to figure out how to even kiss or whatever. It’s much different when all the sudden you are with an adult who has their own private space – an apartment or a house – and now there is a whole different dynamic going on. That adult doesn’t have to worry about a sibling or parent walking in on you in the car or basement. It’s seems like already the rules are different because the situational dynamics are different, if that makes sense.  

Talking with Teens About Consent
Sexual Assault Awareness Month, talking to teens about consent and rape part 1 and part 2
This is What Consent Looks Like
The Curios Case of the Kissing Doctor and Consent 

The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21 (the Good Men Project)
Why Talking with Teens About the Age of Consent Matters
On Teachable Moments and Consent 

Recaps and Video of the First 2 Discussion Panels:
Recap and Video of the first panel discussing Faultline, Sex & Violence and Where the Stars Still Shine

Recap and Video of the second panel discussing Charm & Strange, Canary, and The Gospel of Winter  

See Complete Project Outline and Details Here

Take 5: 5 Books Coming Soon That YOU MUST READ

So I read, a lot. Sometimes 3 to 5 books a week. These are some books that I have read recently that I think are so spectacularly good that everyone should read them. Yes, that means you. Some of these you have heard me mention frequently on Twitter. Others, I have been holding my bubbling excitement in with tremendous amount of effort. But I can hold it in no longer, because you definitely want to add these to your TBR piles.

Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn

Publisher’s Description: Two years ago, sixteen-year-old Jamie Henry breathed a sigh of relief when a judge sentenced his older sister to juvenile detention for burning down their neighbor’s fancy horse barn. The whole town did. Because Crazy Cate Henry used to be a nice girl. Until she did a lot of bad things. Like drinking. And stealing. And lying. Like playing weird mind games in the woods with other children. Like making sure she always got her way. Or else.

But today Cate got out. And now she’s coming back for Jamie.

Because more than anything, Cate Henry needs her little brother to know the truth about their past. A truth she’s kept hidden for years. A truth she’s not supposed to tell.

Trust nothing and no one as you race toward the explosive conclusion of this gripping psychological thriller from the William C. Morris Award-winning author of Charm & Strange.

Karen’s Thoughts:
This is a masterful psychological thriller. The ending floored me, in fact after I finally picked my jaw up off the floor I stood and applauded Kuehn for making some very bold storytelling choices. I can not stress enough what an engaging read this is. You know from the description that things are not what they seem, and to be honest I thought some very different things were happening then what was happening. There are some epic twists and turn here, and the tension is superb.  Kuehn won the 2014 Morris Award for Charm & Stranger for a reason, girl can write and Complicit does not let the reader down. Pair this with Scowler by Daniel Kraus for some great psychological thriller action.

Publishes June 2014 from St. Martin’s. ISBN: 9781250044594

Servants of the Storm by Delilah S. Dawson


Publisher’s Description: A year ago Hurricane Josephine swept through Savannah, Georgia, leaving behind nothing but death and destruction — and taking the life of Dovey’s best friend, Carly. Since that night, Dovey has been in a medicated haze, numb to everything around her.

But recently she’s started to believe she’s seeing things that can’t be real … including Carly at their favorite cafe. Determined to learn the truth, Dovey stops taking her pills. And the world that opens up to her is unlike anything she could have imagined.

As Dovey slips deeper into the shadowy corners of Savannah — where the dark and horrifying secrets lurk — she learns that the storm that destroyed her city and stole her friend was much more than a force of nature. And now the sinister beings truly responsible are out to finish what they started.

Dovey’s running out of time and torn between two paths. Will she trust her childhood friend Baker, who can’t see the threatening darkness but promises to never give up on Dovey and Carly? Or will she plot with the sexy stranger, Isaac, who offers all the answers — for a price? Soon Dovey realizes that the danger closing in has little to do with Carly … and everything to do with Dovey herself.
Karen’s Thoughts:
I actually read this book sometime last year for no other reason than it had the most amazing cover ever. Yep, I too judge a book by it’s cover. This is some seriously creepy – and I mean that in the most amazing way – southern Gothic horror. The beginning part, where we learn about the poverty of the area, meet our main characters, and experience the storm: that is some amazing writing. And then you start learning about the way that demons kind of undulate under every part of this town – wicked cool. So descriptive, so haunting, so mesmerizing. The way that the author uses the lore of demons to undergird this entire world, an epically cool twist. And the way that the humans interact with the demons, which involves seriously gross things, will blow readers minds. There is an entire scene at a “amusement park” which will keep you awake at night and make you seriously reconsider your summer plans to visit your local carnivals.
Publishes in August 2014 from Simon Pulse. ISBN: 9781442483781
Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann

Publisher’s Description: Every little girl goes through her princess phase, whether she wants to be Snow White or Cinderella, Belle or Ariel. But then we grow up. And life is not a fairy tale.

Christine Heppermann’s collection of fifty poems puts the ideals of fairy tales right beside the life of the modern teenage girl. With piercing truths reminiscent of Laurie Halse Anderson and Ellen Hopkins, this is a powerful and provocative book for every young woman. E. Lockhart, author of We Were Liars, calls it “a bloody poetic attack on the beauty myth that’s caustic, funny, and heartbreaking.”

Cruelties come not just from wicked stepmothers, but also from ourselves. There are expectations, pressures, judgment, and criticism. Self-doubt and self-confidence. But there are also friends, and sisters, and a whole hell of a lot of power there for the taking. In fifty poems, Christine Heppermann confronts society head on. Using fairy tale characters and tropes, Poisoned Apples explores how girls are taught to think about themselves, their bodies, and their friends. The poems range from contemporary retellings to first-person accounts set within the original tales, and from deadly funny to deadly serious. Complemented throughout with black-and-white photographs from up-and-coming artists, this is a stunning and sophisticated book to be treasured, shared, and paged through again and again.
Karen’s Thoughts:
I read this book for one simple reason: A. S. King said this book was so good she blurbed it. That speaks volumes to me. These poems are so amazing and the perfectly capture a lot of what teens think and feel about things like body image, cultural messaging, and more. They kind of take the tone and conceit of fairy tales, make them into poems, and use these poems to discuss things like periods and anorexia . . . The poems are haunting with their incisive look at what it means to be a girl in today’s world. For example, a poem entitled “Sweet Nothings” ends with the line:
How stupid that all I have to do
is grow two squishy lumps and
I’m man’s best friend
All I can say is, these poems are amazing. Read them.
Publishes in September 2014 from Greenwillow Books. ISBN: 9780062289599

Bleed Like Me by Christa Desir

Publisher’s Description: From the author of Fault Line comes an edgy and heartbreaking novel about two self-destructive teens in a Sid and Nancy-like romance full of passion, chaos, and dyed hair.

Seventeen-year-old Amelia Gannon (just “Gannon” to her friends) is invisible to almost everyone in her life. To her parents, to her teachers-even her best friend, who is more interested in bumming cigarettes than bonding. Some days the only way Gannon knows she is real is by carving bloody lines into the flesh of her stomach.

Then she meets Michael Brooks, and for the first time, she feels like she is being seen to the core of her being. Obnoxious, controlling, damaged, and addictive, he inserts himself into her life until all her scars are exposed. Each moment together is a passionate, painful relief.

But as the relationship deepens, Gannon starts to feel as if she’s standing at the foot of a dam about to burst. She’s given up everything and everyone in her life for him, but somehow nothing is enough for Brooks-until he poses the ultimate test.

Bleed Like Me is a piercing, intimate portrayal of the danger of a love so obsessive it becomes its own biggest threat.

Karen’s Thoughts:
I know you are thinking to yourself, but Karen, you are biased because you are working with Christa on the #SVYALit Project. I have a personal rule that is very easy to follow: Because I want my site to be a reputable site, I have to be honest about my reviews. Here’s the deal, after finishing Bleed Like Me I emailed Christa and basically said, please don’t take this the wrong way but this book is soooo much better than Fault Line. And it is. Christa has created a well developed character study into the life of one girl and the very unhealthy relationship she gets involved in. This is a must read for Ellen Hopkins fans; all the gritty reality but in prose. It is very edgy and mature, make no mistake about that, but it is hands down a perfect look into the complexities of how and why people get into the most dysfunctional relationships. It is also a profound look at what are sometimes considered the murkier areas of sexual consent; namely, if a boy uses guilt and manipulation to get a girl to consent, how consensual is it really? This is also a very compelling look at family and identity and how changing family dynamics can impact how we see ourselves fitting into the universe.

Publishes in October 2014 from Simon Pulse. ISBN: 9781442498907

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A. S. King

Publisher’s Description:

Graduating from high school is a time of limitless possibilities—but not for Glory, who has no plan for what’s next. Her mother committed suicide when Glory was only four years old, and she’s never stopped wondering if she will eventually go the same way…until a transformative night when she begins to experience an astonishing new power to see a person’s infinite past and future. From ancient ancestors to many generations forward, Glory is bombarded with visions—and what she sees ahead of her is terrifying.

A tyrannical new leader raises an army. Women’s rights disappear. A violent second civil war breaks out. And young girls vanish daily, sold off or interned in camps. Glory makes it her mission to record everything she sees, hoping her notes will somehow make a difference. She may not see a future for herself, but she’ll do everything in her power to make sure this one doesn’t come to pass.

In this masterpiece about freedom, feminism, and destiny, Printz Honor author A.S. King tells the epic story of a girl coping with devastating loss at long last—a girl who has no idea that the future needs her, and that the present needs her even more.

Karen’s Thoughts:
My love for A. S. King is so deep and profound at this point that I go into each new book with a mixture of both anticipation and anxiety. My fear is that one day I won’t like one of her books and then I won’t know how to order my universe. But today is not that day! I freaking loved this book. In many ways, Glory O’Brien is reminiscent to me of Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith. How you ask? It has an interesting “friendship” – in this case a female one – and it juxtaposes alternating contemporary fiction (King truly captures the teenage voice) with some very cool speculative fiction elements. Glory O’Brien is a fascinating character and she perfectly captures that moment of transition when teens are about to graduate high school and they think, holy crap what now? Her journey of self discovery is authentic, sincere, and resonates. This book was full of quotes that teens will latch onto as personal mantras. And I sincerely love that it is unabashedly feminist in the things O’Brien says to both herself and to the universe around her. This is a journey of self discovery and it was an enlightening joy to take it with this character. This may be my favorite King title yet.

Publishes in October 2014 from Little, Brown. ISBN: 9780316222723

I downloaded eArcs of all of these books on Edelweiss.

True Confessions of a Former Slut Shamer – A Slut Shelf Giveaway

It’s true, I was one. A slut shamer that is. I judged you based on what you were wearing, calling you a slut in my head. You see, I fell victim to the lie that a girl, a woman, is only worth her sexuality. And it’s an insidious lie. So very deceitful because you and I – we are more than just how we look and whether or not we preserve our pure virgin snow white flower gift for a man on our wedding night.

“The problem with slut is when it comes to young, young girls,” she said. “Once that name gets attached to you. Like to a girl of 12? Boom. It ruins your life. You’re spending years getting over it.” But she said more. Slut also means that you’re nothing. That any guy can have you. That you have no self-worth.” – from Slut, How Do We Explain the Word to Our Girls

There are 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, 52 weeks in a year. I’m not sure how we let ourselves believe that what we do in such a small amount of that time completely overshadows all the other parts of our lives. And I’m not sure why we let ourselves believe that our sexuality is somehow all about men, about pleasing them and fulfilling their needs, as if it was wrong to have needs and desires of our own. We let ourselves believe the lie and we are teaching these lies to each younger generation. Slowly, I’m starting to understand how dangerous the lie is and why we have to change what we teach the girls that come after us.

“Every snarky suggestion for a woman to “open books, not your legs” or viral outrage and scorn over a leaked sex tape systematically reinforces a Rape Culture in which women can only belong to one of two exclusive binaries: the morally sound and intelligent virgin or the morally bankrupt, uneducated slut”. – Lauren Miller

Let me tell you when the real moment of change came for me. Several years ago I read an online essay by a “former slut” (her words, not mine). She was a girl who was very sexually active in high school and she was ridiculed and exiled for it. She left school broken, lonely and ashamed. The thing is, she also revealed that she was very sexually active because she had been a victim of childhood sexual abuse and she was trying to find a sexual experience that would make her feel safe. She needed to erase that damage that had been done to her and write over it with a new sexual experience. And that’s when it hit me: we never truly know what is happening on the inside of another person. This topic comes up again when you discuss Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller, which I highly recommend.

Then I also had what us religious types like to call a “Come to Jesus Moment.” In the Bible, there is a story about a woman at a well. The men around her call her a slut, basically. They say her punishment is that she must be stoned. And Jesus, well he just looks at them and says, essentially, if you are free of sin then you are more than welcome to stone her to death, who wants to go first? When we slut shame people, our words and our actions are those stones, and they hurt. They can forever shape what a young person thinks or feels about themselves, their sense of worth. And by picking up those shame stones we are suggesting that we have nothing of our own to worry about.

The worst result of slut shaming is the impact it has on our culture and how we treat victims of rape and sexual violence. You know how a news report comes out and says a woman was raped and you think in your head, yes but look what she was wearing. That is the most insidious lie that comes out of slut shaming. No matter how a girl dresses or how many times she has chosen to have sex, a girl (or woman and yes even a man) never deserves to be raped. Dressing a certain way isn’t an invitation for rape. Being sexually active isn’t an invitation for rape. In fact, there is no rape invitation. Rape is a crime and deserves to be investigated and treated as such each and every time.

The truth is, our culture sends very confusing messages to our young girls. We sexualize them day in and day out. We tell both men and women that girls are objects to be ogled and groped, sexual play things put on this Earth to satisfy the sexual desires of a man. And we tell men that they can’t help themselves because boys will be boys after all. And then, when a girl decides to embrace her sexuality, we turn our backs on her; we vilify her. Female sexuality has become a game that girls can’t seem to win. A confusing and dangerous game. Healthy female sexuality is good for everyone; it’s what we call a win-win situation for society.

“So that’s the thing about judging and labeling girls “sluts”. You put their sexuality on trial in a way that justifies sexual violence against them.” – Christa Desir

So I slut shame no more. Female sexuality is a healthy and normal thing. How a person dresses and when and who a woman chooses to have sex with is both none of my business and a infinitely small part of their life. It does not determine their value or worth. It is a personal choice and I can’t force my own values and choices onto others. And I know that there is no universe in which I deserve to pick up a rock and stone another. And no matter what, no one ever deserves to be raped.

Why I am I sharing all of this? Last week author Alexandra Duncan discovered that her book, Salvage, had been placed on a shelf in Goodreads labelled “Slut Shelf”. So she put out a challenge to do a slut shelf giveaway. Yesterday, #SVYALit Project author Christa Desir wrote her own post about The Slut Shelf and Sexual Violence, which is important and you should read it. She is also doing a Slut Shelf giveaway. And today we are doing our own giveaway that includes an ARC of the book The S Word by Chelsea Pitcher (and you should read Lourdes’ fabulous essay about this book here) and a signed copy of Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller (thank you Trish!!) Simply leave a comment between now and Friday at midnight to be entered. U.S. residents only please.

Talking with Teens About Slut Shaming
Slut Shaming part 1 and part 2
Discussing The S Word by Chelsea Pitcher

Consent and Teenage Vulnerability, a look at POINTE (Brandy Colbert) by author Christa Desir

When I was twelve years old, a friend of my mom’s became interested in me. Very young brides were pretty common in his country of origin and while he understood they weren’t common in the US, he started a strange sort of courtship with me. My parents had been divorced for a few years and while my sister was more frequently back and forth between my mom and dad’s house, I spent most of my time with my mom because she needed me more. As a result, I spent quite a bit of time with my mom’s friend.

From the outside, this man was amazing. Smart, handsome, very well-spoken, kind. He spoke to me like an adult and was seemingly excited by all my ideas and stories and thoughts about the world. He asked me endless questions and marveled at my clever answers. He brought me presents and said lovely things about me in this way that a father would dote on a treasured daughter.
I had no idea what was happening until my mom said something to me about it. “You need to be careful with D. He’d like to keep you.” Whether he had said this to her outright or if she could tell from how he interacted with me, I’m still not sure. But I know exactly how I felt when she said it to me, at that moment on the cusp of young adulthood: I wanted to be “kept”.
The reasons for this desire to be kept are deeply rooted in personal history that is too complicated to go into, but I do think that for vulnerable children (and frankly, what girl isn’t vulnerable during her tweens for one reason or another) this notion of being wanted, being craved is important to understand when looking into sexual coercion, power dynamics, and age disparity between partners.
(Spoilers for POINTE ahead)
Brandy Colbert’s absolutely excellent POINTE takes the issue of “consent” and dissects it to a deep and critical look at both power and age disparity in sexual relationships. What struck me so much with this book is the unflinching way in which Theo, the protagonist, holds on to the notion that she wanted to be in this relationship with an older guy, that she loved him, that he made her feel ALL the things as a young woman on the cusp of adulthood.
Only she wasn’t on the cusp of adulthood. She was thirteen. Thirteen to his eighteen (which later is revealed to be twenty-six). And he made her feel special and craved and wanted and really, from an older guy who you admire, it’s a gift. Because when you’re thirteen and pimply and awkward and nothing on your body feels right and you’ve been inundated with messages about the importance of boyfriends and being sexy, it means something when someone picks you. When someone desires you. When someone thinks you’re so spectacular that they’re willing to break rules for you. And all you have to do to keep this feeling going is break a few rules for them.
And it’s that head space that is captured so beautifully in POINTE. What makes a girl make this “choice” and what is the fall-out from the choice. Theo’s fall-out is indeed difficult to watch, particularly her inability to value herself enough to ask for more from Hosea. She accepts that this is what she’s worth, that all she deserves is furtive sex with a boy who already has a girlfriend, and it is heartbreaking to read. But so important to add to the conversation about sexual violence in YA literature.
Similar to THE GOSPEL OF WINTER, POINTE poses difficult questions about culpability, consent, love, and demonstrates the delicate nature of blind trust and how it can be manipulated by perpetrators to leave victims in a place of shame. Over and over Theo rationalizes her relationship with Chris/Trent and this is important to the dialogue about victim-blaming. Because often perpetrators are able to perpetuate silence in their victims by planting seeds of self-doubt and blame. The majority of sexual violence survivors I’ve spoken with over the years have all had at least one moment where they felt responsible for what happened to them. When it comes to victim-blaming, victims themselves are frequently the first people in line to say, “well, I did do XXX so…”
And perhaps the most important take-away from POINTE is our ability to discern that Theo was not at fault. That she had been used. That her thirteen-year-old vulnerability had been twisted into something terrible. That her feeling loved and wanted did not change the fact that what Chris/Trent did was rape. And that a good deal of sexual violence is perpetrated not through overt physical violence, but through coercion and manipulation, plucking at the very core of adolescent vulnerability.

POINTE releases on Thursday, April 10th from Penguin. ISBN: 9780399160349

Christa Desir is the author of Fault Line and the upcoming Bleed Like Me. She is also one of the co-moderators of the #SVYALit Project. She lives outside of Chicago with her awesome husband, Julio, and their three children. When she’s not writing, she is an editor of romance novels. Christa is also a feminist, former rape victim advocate, lover of coffee and chocolate, and head of the PTA. Visit her at www.christadesir.com.

Slut Shaming, part 1 – a discussion by author Christa Desir (Part of the SVYALit Project)

Slut-shaming is defined as:
  1. the process in which women are attacked for their transgression of accepted codes of sexual conduct
  2. making any person feel guilty or inferior for certain sexual behaviors or desires that deviate from the traditional or orthodox gender expectations
Picture from the movie The Breakfast Club

So a few weeks ago, a friend reached out to me and told me about a situation that happened in his high school: a girl was making out with a guy in the hallway, followed him into the guy’s bathroom, and then was raped.

The girl had told the guy she was kissing she didn’t want to have sex, he corroborated this story when a teacher asked him. To repeat: He admitted that she told him she didn’t want to have sex and he had sex with her anyway.
My friend was talking to his students about this afterwards and a lot of them responded with, “That’s not really rape. She followed him into the bathroom. What did she expect was going to happen?”
I can think of no better example to demonstrate the inexorable link between rape culture and slut-shaming. “What did she expect was going to happen?” This is blaming a victim for her transgression in the accepted code of sexual conduct and thereby rationalizing any consequence of her choice.
“What did she expect?” is a very problematic argument with regards to sexual violence. I wrote an entire blog on it here. The bottom line is that she expected to be listened to, she expected her no to be adhered to, she expected not to be raped.
What’s informative about this discussion is that it demonstrates the “us” against “them” mentality that many people cling to in order to separate themselves or their daughters/sisters/wives/etc from the possibility of being a rape victim. If we can point to clothing choices, alcohol consumption, “slutty” behavior, etc. we think we can somehow protect ourselves from rape. This is, of course, ridiculous. I have worked in hospital ERs with children as young as 4 and with women as old as 87. The only protection against rape is stopping perpetrators from raping.
And here’s the fall-out of slut-shaming: it is another barrier to getting help. It is another barrier to victims disclosing rape. It keeps this horrible crime well and truly hidden so that perpetrators can continue to do it. It’s also a barrier to discussions about sexuality, enthusiastic consent, and figuring out what each individual truly wants.
The first time I chose to have sex, I was seventeen. And even in this case, “chose” is a bit of a nebulous word. I relented to the three-month long coercion campaign my boyfriend at the time had pressed on me. I decided to “get it over with.” All my friends had already done it. These are not exactly statements of excitement over having sex. And part of the reason for that is that I never had a sit-down conversation with myself about what I wanted. It was not even a consideration. Nor had I had a reasonable conversation with anyone who might help me figure this out.
Because when I was seventeen, talking about sex never included a conversation about what I wanted for myself. It included lots of conversations about what I’d done, but no one along the way ever asked me, “do you want to have sex?” Nor did any conversation ever include what being sexual felt like to me. My girlfriends and I could get into an extremely graphic discussion about every possible sexual thing we’d done or been asked to do, but not once did the question, “did it feel good to you?” ever come up between us.
I suspect the reason for that is we were all afraid admitting that we were active participants in sexual practices pegged us as sluts. In my group of friends, the unspoken code was that you could do anything sexually, as long as it was for the guy. I somehow dodged the bullet of being labeled a “slut” because everything I did was for my partner’s benefit. And that code would have left me culpable for following a boy into the bathroom and having sex with him, even if I didn’t want to. If I followed a boy into the bathroom, I was expected to have sex with him. What I wanted never came into play.

I have recently finished Jennifer Mathieu’s The Truth About Alice. This book is an important and critical look at slut-shaming, both the reasoning behind it and the consequences of it. It’s excellent because it offers an insight into the girl who is shamed and those who are shaming her. It also demonstrates the mentality of girls hooking up with guys with little thought to what the girls want. And how the insidious code of sexual expectation in girls leaves them with very little real agency. Something I fear is all too true in real life.

We are very lucky that we live in a time where books can demonstrate the very complicated maze that is teenage sexuality. Books allow us to have nuanced discussions about sexual agency and gender expectations. They allow us the ability to dissect choices and not judge characters so much on their actions as look to the motives behind them. How did we get here and how can we change things?
I have been given quite a bit of “feedback” with regards to Ani’s choices in Fault Line. Her hyper-promiscuity after her rape has led many people to be repelled by her. This was a conscious choice. I have met a lot of Anis in my life. The girls who are dismissed as sluts, attacked for their choices, judged for their actions. And I can’t help but wonder if anyone has ever sat down and asked any of them what they really want. Because if we’re really going to start a good conversation here, we need to step back from the question of what teen girls do and start looking at why they do it.

Christa Desir is the author of Faultline and co-moderator of the #SVYALit Project